London's Ghost Club Obsession
An illustration from Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, inspired by the Spiritualist movement.
Do you believe in ghosts? Stories about ghosts and spirits is as old as humanity itself, but the scientific study of such phenomena is a relatively recent development. It'd be easy to look at the Youtube and reality TV documentaries on ghost hunters and find it all a little suspect, but these practices actually stem from the spiritualist movement of the nineteenth century.
This movement was about more than just investigating hauntings though — its members spanned all motivations, between scientific evidence and even religious understanding. Amongst all the societies and organizations devoted to studying the paranormal of the time, one has persisted even to this very day.
The Ghost Club was founded in London in 1862 by a diverse collection of academics, scientists, writers and other learned men with an interest in the burgeoning field of studying the paranormal. These men were believers to be sure, but in its original interaction the Ghost Club attempted to apply rigorous scientific methods to their work of studying the paranormal.
The group went through many different iterations, from the scientific-minded approach of its initial version, to more uncritical, séance-driven organizations later on. Through its history it counted Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Huxley, W. B. Yeats, and Peter Cushing among its members.
For all the authors and artists, the club also had membership from prominent scientists and scholars. After all, the public was fascinated with spirits and ghost stories, so the scientific minds of the time wanted to study the phenomenon. The true nature was unknown, which made it the perfect frontier for science. Of course, there's some evidence today that the uptick in ghostly sightings of the Victorian period may have had to do with carbon monoxide from newly installed gas lamps too. 👻
Over the past century and a half, the Ghost Club has been involved in studying many claimed haunted sites. Proof of supernatural phenomenon remains elusive, but the search goes continues on.